Thursday, September 13, 2012

Full Circle

Full Circle - Aerosmith
Rhine River, Trechtingshausen, Germany

Our flight is going to be delayed due to the ongoing strike at Frankfurt Airport.  All the gates are currently occupied and air traffic control is not allowing any aircraft to depart towards the airport.  Our cabin crew will be coming around with juice and snacks.  We’re scheduled to depart in an hour, but we will keep you posted if that time is moved up.  Once we are in the air, our flying time will be 55 minutes and we will see if we can make up some time.  Thank you for your patience.

And with that, the Captain switched off the intercom.  I’m sitting in the middle of the plane by the window.  Earlier this week, my husband’s flight home from Norway was cancelled because a maintenance worker at AMS found a bomb from World War II and they shut down a portion of the airport for hours.  I can’t help but think: strikes and WWII bombs, I don’t think these are things that would happen in America.  Either way, it’s a rough week for airline travel in The Netherlands.  I settle back in my chair and for about the tenth time today, I am thankful my children are not with me, and the trip is just getting started.  I hear a small child, about 18 rows behind me, with piercing clarity.  He is not pleased with the news about the hour delay.  Maybe the chocolate “Time Out Cookies” will brighten his mood.  I text my husband and my childhood friend with the information, then sit back and smile.  More time to read my book…alone.  I am okay with this. 
   My husband had pushed the double-stroller to the train station and I said goodbye to my adorable children just hours before.  “Bye sweeties!  I’ll be home in just a few days.  You be good for Daddy!”  Baby Girl blew me kisses from the back seat of the tandem stroller while Little Man just looked at me confused.  At almost 11 months old now, I’ve never been away from him for a night.  Tears streamed down my face as the train doors shut and the train pulled away from my family standing on the platform, but the sadness was short-lived.  I reminded myself that I needed this get-away and I didn’t feel too guilty about leaving my husband in charge for a few days.  He’d gone to Paris with some friends a few weekends back, and he had been in Norway earlier in the week.  He should be well-rested.  My girl’s trip to visit my childhood friend who lives outside of Frankfurt had been my carrot all week during his absence and I was ready to savor it.
   I’ve known Amy since before she was born.  Decades ago, our grandparents lived down the street from each other in Lubbock, Texas.  My dad was best friends with her uncle growing up.  My dad went to high school with her dad.  In a convoluted way I don’t remember clearly, her family introduced my parents to each other.  My mom was pregnant with me when she visited Amy’s mom in the hospital when Amy’s brother was born.  The story goes that the nurse joked, “Oh, I guess we’ll be seeing you soon.” “Oh no,” my mother replied. “I still have five weeks.”  I was born four days later.   My parents dropped me and my sister off at their house when my brother was born.  My Dad apparently shouting, “I’m off to have my 3rd girl!” as he sped into the night.  We’ve spent countless summers growing up together, swimming in their pool, playing house, playing school, and riding bikes.  We had a yearly tradition of attending the Morton Meyerson Christmas concerts in Downtown Dallas together and made bets on which grandparent was going to fall asleep first.  When I was in middle school, my grandma and her grandfather would go dancing.  The thought that they’d fall in love and get married thrilled the five of us kids.  We couldn’t think of anything more appropriate than us becoming real cousins.  We’ve attended each other’s high school graduations and Amy and her parents were at my wedding.  
  Amy lived in Florida for a while and had been living in Germany for almost three years when I moved to The Netherlands in January.  With geography between us, we had fallen out of touch.  I had e-mailed her before my departure, joking that we’d “be neighbors soon,” but I did not realize what a significant influence she would have on my new life.  She has no kids of her own, but she is a kindergarten teacher in an International School outside of Frankfurt, which credits her more than any mom I know.  She e-mailed me after I arrived here and said, “I will come.  I will take care of your kids, while you and V do whatever you need to do to get settled.”  Three weeks after the kids and I moved here - We did not have furniture in our home, but she came and slept on the Ikea sofa bed and ate at our card table.  She looked around our empty house and said, “Take pictures of this – this is part of your journey.”  She made shelters out of our cardboard boxes for my daughter.  She played with Baby Girl while V, Little Man, and I bought paint in the snow. 
Walking on the frozen canals in Leiden
    During her visit in February, she and I excitedly explored my new home town while V looked after the kids.  The canals were frozen over and she encouraged me to walk on them.  “What”?  Are you crazy?!?”  With raised eyebrow, I watched Dutch women push their strollered babies on the ice.  With the dare in her eyes, I responded, “Okay, I’ll do it,” and we walked out on the ice in our boots.  She took me shopping and told me what tights I needed to buy for my daughter to keep her warm. “Kids don’t get sick from cold, they get sick from germs,” she explained.  News to me, I reservedly trusted her teacher’s assessment.  Together, we purchased a bight pink snow suit (1/2 price in February) for my daughter.  Once we were home, Amy played with my daughter in front of our house in the snow, while I watched from the window, shivering and cowering inside, clutching my newborn.
  When she offered to have my family visit her in Germany, we had lots of considerations – we could take the train, but do I really want to haul two children plus stuff on the five hour train ride?  (The answer is: no)  We could drive, but is five hours too long for the kids, etc. (Yes, perhaps, it is too long?)  In the end, I decided, I’m going to go.  I want to hang out with Amy.  Me.  Alone.  I think I deserve this. 
   So with that, a KLM ticket was purchased and I was on my way to Germany.  As the plane ascended, I looked out the window and thought – geez, The Netherlands is as flat as Dallas.  With that, if Dallas was old and had some fabulous architecture and a few canals, who knows what it could be. . . . (Think. . . San Antonio Riverwalk???)  I arrived at Frankfurt and was pleased at the EU agreement, as I bypassed customs on my way out of the baggage claim area.  Reveling at the fact that I was in Germany without jet-lag, I found Amy amongst the crowd of people and together we high-tailed it to her car parked outside, toting my pink polka dot carry-on, while dodging hugely large suitcases on the sidewalks.  We snapped our seatbelts efficiently and eyed the parking ticket machine as her car sped towards the gated exit.  Panicked about the requirements of pre-payment, in a frenzy and as a result of her direct instructions, I jumped out with her ticket and Euros in hand, paid the parking ticket, thanking the language Gods there was an English option on the machine, and jumped back into her awaiting car, while other cars and hand gestures were piling up behind us, to the tune of, “Well, I usually park over there, where you pay the attendant as you leave!”  I smiled, pleased with myself.  “Do one thing that scares you every day,” was on a postcard she sent me months ago.  From one Texas Expat to another, it reigns true.  As we maneuvered the German countryside to avoid the pile-up of traffic on the highway (highlighted as red on her GPS with the British voice), I laughed out loud.  She turned to me, my friend from my childhood and said, “What?”  “Amy. . . if you had told me. . . that we’d be running around the German countryside in our 30s. . . because you lived outside of Wiesbaden, Germany and I lived in Leiden, The Netherlands. . . would you have ever have believed. . .” and she just laughed. “No, I never would have believed it.”  
  We toured her school and I explored her Kindergarten classroom at the International School in Wiesbaden.  Prior to moving to The Netherlands, many terms were unfamiliar to me:  Expat, American School, International School, etc.  As we walked through her classroom and outdoor playground with a fantastic view of German countryside, she explained her curriculum.  “There’s this shed, where we keep tricycles, wagons, etc.  The teachers never even bothered to really get the toys out because the shed was in such disarray.  So, I decided to give the primary kids a task.  They were instructed to determine how to organize it.”  I’m looking in the shed.  Each tricycle, wagon, toy, etc. has a predetermined ‘parking spot’ complete with photo and precious 5-year-old-hand-wrtten-sign.  Amy backs me up to the instruction totem-pole, in which, the 5-year olds have determined the optimal order in which the toys should be loaded into the shed, again, complete with pictures and hand written sign.  At 5 years old, these children, via my friend, are learning logistics.  I am in awe. 
  She drove me into Weisbaden for dinner.  She’s determined to park in her regular parking garage, but unfortunately for us, the parking hassles continue.  The garage is closed to all those apparently not driving a Mercedes and we have to ridiculously maneuver her car backwards, up the hill, onto the street.  It is hilarious and exhilarating.  We find a new place to park, and walk to her favorite restaurant.  It is quaint and German, complete with the wooden beams you’d expect in a movie.  She orders in German, and again, I’m impressed.  We split a schnitzel (otherwise known as a chicken-fried-chicken) and I am happy.  I am a small person, but I’ve left more than a few Dutch restaurants still hungry.  I am constantly amazed at the biking required by this country, but yet the small portions of bird food they serve you.  This schnitzel, split, was enough to fill my eternal hunger.  I was happy with the food, and drank my pilsner of a beer (geez man, does this come in a small?) with gratitude. 
Breakfast on the balcony
  I awoke the next day to a sleep-filled night and past 8 a.m.  As I was starting my day, she called to me from the bathroom, “Can we eat out on the balcony?”  Although we are both from Texas, after 3 plus years of living in Europe, her blood has apparently thickened before mine.  “What?  No way.  It’s cold!” I shout as I saunter out of the bathroom.  I turn the corner and see that she already has breakfast set up on her balcony with the fantastic view.  I am instantly apologetic and feel like a master jerk.  “Oh, I’m sorry!  Of course we can eat outside, just let me blow dry my hair.”  Sleeping in and her making breakfast for me has already equated to the best vacation ever.    
Burg Rheinstein Castle
  We tour castles, visit vineyards, and have lunch overlooking the Rhine.  I am in love with Germany and the life she has created for herself.  She hosts a BBQ for her Expat friends on Saturday night.  As I am introducing myself, reiterating my script, “We are on a 2-year rotation to The Netherlands.  We started in January,” every one of their responses was, “Can you extend?”  I think this says a lot about the life they’ve created for themselves.  Amy and her friends are happy, and why not?  They’ve got great jobs and benefits they wouldn’t have back in the states.  They love to travel and have wonderful relationships.  I’m proud of Amy and the life she’s created for herself.  She’s knowledgeable and successful and I’m glad I’m close enough to recognize it. 
  The majority of my visit was light-hearted and stress-free, but we were also able to explore a few uncharted territories from our past, like no one else close to me might know.   I think this was an important part of our journey.  We individually and mutually mourned the family we knew in our youth.  Members have passed away physically and emotionally and we were able to share such intimate moments with each other.  We cried together and nodded with understanding and misunderstanding, but yet, it was good.  Not many people I associate with now know my parents and my sister and brother the way she does, and vice versa.  With time and perspective separating us, it was enlightening.  Although I’ve known Amy my entire life, it’s reassuring that we are still discovering ourselves.  We not only support each other in that journey, but we are just across the border from each other.       
  We zoom down the Germany highways as she assures me, “Don’t worry, Terminal 2 is a piece of cake.”  I’m nervous and shaking my head.  I talk to her like the sister she is, “Amy, your house is 30 minutes from the airport, not 20.  This is an important distinction for you to make when people are departing.”  She smiles and apologizes, yet reassures me it will be okay.  My type-A-personality-with-the-crap-poker-face eyes her suspiciously.  To my relief and surprise, Terminal 2 at FRA is like American Eagle Terminal B at DFW:  A piece of cake.  As I’m wandering around the terminal, waiting for them to post what gate my flight is departing from, I reflect on our goodbyes outside Frankfurt airport.  We said goodbye until Thanksgiving.  She and her roommate are going to celebrate Thanksgiving with us in The Netherlands.  I don’t know if we’ll find a turkey, but she reassured me, “I don’t care if we eat pizza.  You choose your family.  I choose you.”  I couldn’t agree more.                                   


  1. Hi Celeste! I came across your blog on the home in leiden website and thought I'd say hello! I am also an American expat living in Leiden with my husband and 8 week old daughter. We've been here about 2 years now and will be here until may 2014. I was laughing reading some of your posts and remembering what our first months were like here(and even still encountering culture shock sometimes!). Anyways, I always enjoy meeting new people, especially people in similar circumstances so thought I'd say hello!

  2. Hi Samantha! Thanks so much for your comment and that's so interesting that you're in a similar situation to us. I'd love to meet you and your daughter. 8 weeks! That's so exciting and congratulations! If you'd like to private message me at, that would be great, and we can set up a time/place to hang out! (As you can probably tell from all my posts, we live really close to the train station :)